Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who is the de facto strongman of Libya's east, was invited aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Jan 11, days after the carrier was re-deployed from off Syria. Haftar met with Russian officers on the ship and spoke via video-link with Moscow's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. "They discussed pressing issues in the fight against international terrorist groups in the Middle East," Russian media repoted the ministry saying. A Russian embrace of Haftar, who is waging his own war against Islamist militias in the east, would be complicated by the fact that he opposes the UN-backed "official" Libyan government based in Tripoli. (Reuters, Jan. 11)
After the meeting on the Admiral Kuznetsov, the government of Malta warned that Haftar's designs to take Tripoli could lead to a greater disaster in Libya. Foreign Minister George Vella told press: "Haftar with his army is moving gradually, slowly from the east to the west… and possibly, eventually linking up with his colleagues from the west, from Zintane, and advancing in a pincer movement on the region of Bani Walid, and Misrata, and Tripoli. That would be disastrous, because it would create civil war and it would create more refugees running away from Libya."
Vella also raised the alarm on Haftar’s contacts with Russia. He acknowledged that Russia has so far respected the UN arms embargo on Libya, even though Haftar had been "going to Moscow asking for arms." But he charged that Russia has funded Haftar, and seeks a foothold in Libya. "I'm not comfortable. We all know the Russians' dreams have always been to have bases in the Mediterranean."
Tripoli saw armed street clashes this week as another warlord, Khalifa Ghwell, attempted to stage a coup against the UN-backed government. “Libya is on the brink of becoming a failed state," Vella said. "Let’s hope we won't go that far." (EU Observer, Jan. 13)